Hello, Again

Chapter 14

Everything will break

A/N – This may sound presumptuous, but it'd be absolutely amazing if you'd read Part 1 of Chapter 14 first, as I've tried very hard to link the two. Also, thanks for sticking with me through these past two months!

"C'mere, Adam."

Adam froze in his tracks, jumping at the sound as Rosalinda's sweet voice rang in the night's silence. Composing himself, he tugged at his collar and turned to face the matronly woman, who was leaning against the mantel, her apron clutched in her (newly wrinkled) hand.

"It's two in the morning, child."

"I know", Adam whispered, "I'm sorry."

"I know you're not", said Rosalinda, sighing deeply as she saw the grin spread on his face, and stepped closer towards him, as he sheepishly looked at the floor.

At seventeen, a six foot one Adam towered over the short woman. This wasn't one of those times.

Rosalinda, to his surprise, barely looked at him and swept past him towards the kitchen. Sensing (as he always did) that something was amiss, he approached the woman and placed a tender hand on her shoulder.

"Is everything okay, Rosie?"

"Your father is home. He came an hour ago."

Adam felt the air being sucked out of his lungs.

"Does he – did he know I was out?"

"I said you were at a friend's place – a sleepover – and I think he bought it."

The momentary feeling of dread passed and was replaced with unfathomable anger, as per usual.

Adam scoffed and stepped past Rosalinda, the anger bubbling inside him like acid, and moved towards the cabinets to avoid making eye contact with the woman

"So, how out was he?"

"What d'you mean?"

"He came at one in the morning, Rosie. On a weekend. The Japanese don't run business meetings round that time usually, do they?"

Rosalinda said nothing.

Adam knew all about picking at scabs – he knew just how his father reeked of scotch, how his jowls sagged and his mouth trembled in his stupor – how detached he was from the world and his children and everything that might've ever needed his attention. Everything except his business, which Adam deduced he needed to buy all the booze in the first place.

Adam was the not-so-proud owner of a functional alcoholic father.

He tried very hard to make it look like it was all a big joke.

The fact ate away at him every day, despite how blasé he acted about it, stealing his father's liquor and hitting the streets at night, tagging walls and watching his friends chug down expensive whiskey, denying the bottle himself but revelling in their drunken revelry all the same, the sweet odour clawing at his insides as he supressed the urge to gag every time they opened a bottle and took a swig. He couldn't fathom how anyone could ever relish it – let alone wash away their lives in it, but he was the rich daddy's boy with the bad attitude and some things just followed the moniker, he surmised.

When he returned every night, the familiar stench would gnaw at his heart and make him dizzier than any scotch ten years down the line would ever manage.

"Where's he?"

"In his study."

For some reason unknown even to him, Adam found himself heading towards the room.

He pushed the heavy oak door open and found his father sprawled on his armchair, looking much smaller than his six foot three frame would indicate, his chin tucked into his chest as he snored gently, an open bottle on the table next to him. Adam hovered near the door, then stepped inside, capping the bottle and drawing the curtains over the windows. After a second's deliberation, he took off his jacket and draped it over his father's torso.

There'd be nights when he'd will himself to hate, but would find an innate tranquillity instead, the kind that filled the air and seeped into the bones of everyone he met. Amelia would attest to it After.

Middle-of-June mornings were beautiful things.

It was with habitual contentment that Adam McAllister strolled down the busy streets of Manhattan - a smile in place, Adam let his feet guide him, walking through the energetic throng with very little on his mind.

Or so he wished to believe.

Adam was exactly the sort of person who could get lost in his city without much on his mind – he believed things happened for a reason and that opportunities would land at his feet if only he was brave enough to accept them, that life had a way of working out if you could get to the right place at the right time, but thoughts like that didn't occur to him this morning. Today, he sought his previous nonchalance and found it slipping, walking on with far more purpose than he intended.

His feet found him on the Museum Mile – he told himself that it was because his stomach demanded breakfast and that Earl's pancakes beckoned to him, but he knew it had far more to with a certain brunette who spoke of iconism in buildings with an unmatched air of animation with Sarah, her eyes wide and her voice pitched, as he watched from afar, under the pretext of guiding little Ben's fingers, his mind seeking ways to comprehend all she said, to resonate.

He had to admit, the Museum mile was an excellent place to begin.

He couldn't quite tell what it was – Adam was the kind who wore his heart on their sleeve and occasionally flung it at a passerby, but there was something about Amelia that caught a little too much of his attention. Perhaps it was the way she looked at him with a regal air he found adorably amusing, or the way she batted away his flirtation with dry humour. Or maybe the fact that she sat coiled up beside him on sunny afternoons, the very air vibrating with anticipation that he was quite sure she was completely immune to.

He'd stayed up last night, staring at the napkin – her poem – he'd pinned up on his canvas, and finally started on the painting he'd been planning for a while now – except now her words seeped into the pictures in his head and warped them beyond recognition, and he spent a sleepless night pondering over her words instead, enjoying the unrest. He'd set out early next morning, and half an hour later, found himself beside the Guggenheim.

People milled about him enthusiastically, and he let himself amble about, absorbing the vibe of the place, feeling completely at home – as only he could – in the middle of the crowd. He waited patiently as a French woman posed before the museum, her companion taking her picture, and then took a double take as they parted to reveal a tall girl in a yellow sundress.

A smile crept up his face. Of Bloody course.

It shouldn't make sense that Adam would run into Amelia in a city inhabited by millions, but somehow, it did.

He took a moment to take her in – her dress fluttering in the summer breeze, her nose scrunched up in a frown as she glared up at the museum, her fingers picking incessantly at her neckline. He debated if he should interrupt – for all he could tell, she was in the middle of a Moment of her own, the kind where it was perfectly acceptable for a young woman to have a staring contest with a building, and the very thought made him chuckle, and making up his mind, he stepped forth and pulled her out of her reverie.

"Did the museum people kill your cat?"

She remained still for a few seconds, before tilting her head to watch him out of the corners of her eyes, the frown dissolving into confusion and mild disbelief as she took him in wordlessly.

The sun shone from behind him, bathing her in radiance. He decided he'd like to commit the image to memory.

"They'd better apologize to you then, love."

She smiled back – a crooked, smug, mischievous affair, the kind he'd only ever seen her offer to him (a fact he relished) and reached out for his hand, squeezing his fingers tenderly. He took the chance and pulled her closer, wrapping his arms around her shoulders, as she snuggled against him, her head resting against his chest.

Standing in front of the Guggenheim, they blended right in with the tourists milling about – just another anonymous sickeningly-in-love young couple in the city. It was the best sort of anonymity, in his opinion.

"Do you remember the time I ran into you? Right outside this museum?"

"I do." Amelia said quietly, smiling up at him.

"You did realise I was asking you out that day, didn't you?" Adam asked merrily, his lips grazing against her forehead as she beamed up at him.

"It took me some time to comprehend that," she said, a sly smile on her face, "but I joined the dots eventually".

"Eventually", he repeated, and kissed her once more on the forehead, before looking up at the building.

"You were terrible at it, though," she said playfully, and he looked down with surprise, "at asking me out, I mean. You waited for ages."

"I asked you out for pancakes!" He said in mock indignation, "How is that terrible?"

"You asked me to give you company as you ate pancakes. That's not a date, that's a loner trying to change his ways. Of course I didn't say yes!"

Adam gazed down at her, and felt something within him shift – he was, suddenly, acutely aware of how much the girl in his arms meant to him. Deciding to test the waters, he commented casually, "But you found me eventually."

Amelia smiled and looked away, as she always did, whispering a word he didn't quite catch. Adam had been accustomed to how little she let on – there were secrets in her eyes, secrets that seemed to taunt him every time he bared a bit of his soul to her. But Adam was nothing but patient, and something told him that Amelia didn't quite communicate with words alone.

There were nights he would wake up to find her sitting by the window, a cigarette in her hand, her eyes bloodshot, but more often than not, of late, she'd smile at him over her shoulder, and crawl back into bed before he'd even say a word. There was an unspoken need in the way she curled against him, and before he knew, he was falling in love with the way her cool skin felt against his body, the way his shirts hung off her shoulders, the way she sometimes left little notes pinned to his easel, with an inside joke that'd keep him smiling for hours.

Adam couldn't tell if it was a precipitous revelation, or a gradual awakening, but in that moment, he realized that he meat it wholeheartedly when he called her Love.

Amelia stood twined within his limbs, looking at the Guggenheim, oblivious to his epiphany.

Sarah tugged at his sleeve and whispered furiously, "Pay attention please, Adam."

A little too piqued than he'd usually be, Adam stepped away, suddenly and acutely averse to Sarah's touch, the air cool against his skin, as he stepped beside Harry Conroy, who started his speech without any invitation or preamble, his enthusiasm abrasive.

"…A very decadent set of buildings, if I may say so myself. As I was saying to Thompson the other day – great fella, by the way, we play golf on the weekends – there's very little we can…"

Adam pressed his lips together and looked at where Harry was pointing, without much comprehension, trying inordinately hard to pay attention to the man's rambling speech. Something in him rankled against everything – the way Sarah's gaze seemed to be digging daggers in his back, the way Sasha took pictures incessantly, the click of her camera punctuating Harry's words, and the man himself, whose sycophancy made him uncomfortable, seemed familiar somehow, and Adam wondered idly if that's how he sounded when he tried explaining his work to curators lately.

He knew what exactly was bothering him the most – but for once, he was too proud to admit it.

It shouldn't bother him, he'd reminded himself in a haze of cigarette smoke the previous night; his brush almost slipping from his fingers as he spun it rapidly, his easel taunting him with his inability to continue. It shouldn't bother him, but it did.

If only he'd taken the chance to peruse the book himself.

When Amelia had left – leaving behind half an empty apartment, a carton full of books they'd bought (together), and an empty bottle of perfume – he'd spent three whole days drinking straight from the bottle and wandering from one empty room to another. He wasn't the kind to drown his sorrow in alcohol – the sorrow hadn't settled in before a week anyhow – but he refused to play by his own rules, to savour his liquor before it burned down his throat, and it felt cathartic. It felt cathartic to drink like there was no tomorrow, to drink like there was no pair of brown eyes to peer morosely at him, trying to caress his invisible wounds, a pair of hands who swept up his ceramic mug and took a sip of his scotch before commenting dryly about his habits. He drank, not to forget, but to enforce a sense of reality, to remind himself that she hadn't just stepped out of the apartment for a stroll, that she wouldn't be back with a bagel and smile.

On the thirty sixth hour after she'd left, he remembered that she'd entrusted him with a copy of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, and requested, with a whisper, to pass it on to Sarah. The very recollection of the event seemed unrealistic and funny to him in hindsight, and he'd hoisted himself off the floor he'd been lying on, picked the book off the table by their (his) front door, and crammed it into the carton with all the others.

Despite his efforts, he couldn't quite forget how his laughter had echoed in his apartment after he'd dismissed her last and only request.

It shouldn't bother him, but the book ate away at his consciousness ever since Sarah had asked him to pass it on. Adam wasn't good with rules, unless they were his own, and now that Sarah had taken the book off his hands, his austerity no longer applied. Something told him he should've held Amelia by the wrist and demanded an explanation, shaken open the book in her presence and discovered whatever secrets it held, that he should've forbidden her from leaving the apartment until her breathing had levelled and her hands had stopped shaking. It bothered him that there were questions in his mind that he had no answers to, and that two years and a cruel fate had brought tem within three feet of each other again, with her faraway gaze and downturned mouth and his mind that refused to rest.

It shouldn't bother him, but it did.

He noticed, just as he noticed everything these days, that she'd wandered away from the group and was walking down the sidewalk, her hand brushing off the hair from her shoulders as she peered up at the buildings. Following his gaze, Harry looked at Amelia as well and exclaimed, somewhat unnecessarily, "Urban context is extremely necessary, Mr McAllister, I'm sure you know that. I have very strong views on whether a building complements its neighbours or not." Much to Adam's chagrin, Harry started walking, following in Amelia's wake, "I have come to understand that your, ahem, organization had certain reservations with the project, but I assure you, we mean to create an icon befitting its purpose. Just look at the Guggenheim here," he waved an arm imperiously towards the white building, "A testament to human vision, one may say." An exuberant smile in place, he took another step forwards and said, "it's all about how imageable a building is, you know – I'm talking about its visual appeal, of course. And the Guggenheim is a visual delight, isn't it, Amelia?

Amelia turned, her brows knitted, as she eyed one man then another, and slowly nodded, "A delight, indeed."

Adam couldn't help but scowl at her, his features contorting themselves before he could give it another thought. He'd once run into a girl in a yellow sundress who stared at buildings in contempt regardless of the milling crowd around her and their adoration for the same, and he'd fallen, just a little, on a fateful morning, for that sort of individuality.

That girl had ceased to exist with three simple words. It shouldn't bother him, but it did.

Adam was not the sort to quell his feelings, but something about the way his heart beat inside his chest frightened him just a little.

Striving to keep his mind off it, he looked up at the Guggenheim, "I love this part of the city," he said, more to himself than to her, "and I know just the thing that will make it better."

He felt Amelia stiffen in his embrace, "It's not happening, Adam."

"Why not, Ames? It's just an interview."

"For a job I barely qualify for", Amelia said, her mood souring

"For a job you more than qualify for," Adam said emphatically, placing his hands on her waist and pulling her closer, until they were nearly nose to nose, "listen to me Amelia – I won't stand about and watch you slog away at that internship – it's time you got a job that respects you back. And from what I know, Thompson & Lowell does a fantastic range of projects and your talents would be put to a great use there."

"Have you been Googling them?" she asked incredulously.

"I may have dropped by their office and fetched back a brochure or two, for purely referential purposes," he said airily, "but they excel at urban development projects, and your thesis would be so relevant here. Don't say no, love."

She looked up at him, chewing at her lip. Something within him seemed to melt at the sight.

"I'll think about it", she said, relenting, and leant forward and pecked him on the lips, "but don't expect me to whip out a Guggenheim on my first week there."

"I thought you hated the building?"

"I do," she said, a strange smile pulling at her lips, "but you don't, do you?"

He smiled back, pulling her closer. "Maybe not now," he gently rested his chin on her head and continued quietly, "but someday, when we attend inaugural parties for your skyscrapers, I'll tell everyone that Frank Lloyd Wright has nothing on you."

"But Adam," she said, concern in her words, as she turned to face him, "they'll make you wear tuxedos and use salad knives."

He burst out laughing before burying his face in her hair, "We'll work something out, Amy across the Atlantic."

Just down the street was too much information.

Adam wasn't quite sure why he'd even bothered telling her where he was headed – she'd made it clear time and time again that she'd rather keep her distance, and despite her strange smiles and unexpected appearances, he realized that he was overstepping his boundaries, and hers. It didn't matter how she made his heart hum, and how he found her looking at him from across the room at the most unexpected moments, there were walls she'd put up around herself that he'd no business knocking on. And so, with a heavier heart than he'd intended, Adam waited by the café's counter, banking on his upcoming coffee to nurse his bruised sensibilities.

Collecting his coffee, his turned around and stepped out of the café, making up his mind to go back to the studio and devote himself to the painting, when he found her making the way across the street.

His heart thumped – this had to be a sign, hadn't it?

"Hi", she said breathlessly, coming to a stop before him, her hands playing with her hemline, as she peered at him shyly through her eyelashes.

"Hi", he replied, and it took him but a moment to realize – the walls she put up around her weren't of apathy, but reticence, and all her smiles and glances fell into place in one epiphanous moment.

He stepped forward, not quite thinking, intoxicated by the sight and sound and smell of her, his excitement palpable and childlike, and he decided to do what he probably should've done long ago.

It was the perfect setting for a kiss.

Too perfect.

"I have a boyfriend", she stammered, and something between them seemed to fracture.

He halted in his tracks, mere inches away from her – from those full, pink lips, from those eyes that seemed to taunt him with their coyness, from the sweet fragrance she wore that assailed his senses – and did what he did best. He hid his disappointment under a bright, bright smile.

"I know", he said quietly, quite unsure of where the words came from. Three months – three months of agonizingly slow progress and four words that ripped it all apart. Later that evening, he'll tell himself that it was nought but a crush and that there were plenty of fish in the sea, even ones who wrote beautiful poetry and smirked at him through long lashes, and pass the night by his easel, but in the moment, he sought something ostensibly straight forward – damage control.

"Did – did Sarah tell you?" she asked, ostensibly confused.

"Doesn't matter at this point, does it?" He half whispered unable to stop himself, his disappointment tainting his words. "But", he said, stepping away, and stuffed his hands in his pocket once more, glancing back at the café, "that shouldn't stop us from getting pancakes, right? As friends."

"As friends", she acquiesced, and he regretted his words almost immediately. Despite all his rants to Armin about the inherent flaws of resisting being friend zoned at four in the morning, when words came to blows, Adam knew better than to believe that he'd be dandy with his own decision. And her vicinity.

But he wasn't one to give up trying. It was just a crush after all, wasn't it? Plenty of fish in the sea.

"So," he said, after they'd stepped inside and settled on a table near the window, "tell me more about this Jason of yours."

"This Jason of mine", she started, then paused, her mouth twisting into a frown, and something childish within him cheered at the sight of his schism. Tamping the voice down, he leant forward and smiled at her, determined to be nothing but the most platonic of friends to this beautiful, bizarre girl.

Author's Note – I'm finally back! I'm not quite sure how, but I got a couple of days off in the middle of the week and devoted all 48 hours to my laptop so I could to pen this down. Three re-writes later (man, I'm getting rusty!) nothing makes me happier to present this chapter to you, and I hope all the Adam-ness of the chapter will help make up for the long, long wait.

Do comment and let me know if you liked it!